by Michele Newbern Gillis
The former Prudential I building, now known as 841 Prudential Drive, has been a part of the Southbank since 1954.
“The construction of this building had such a significant positive economic impact on Jacksonville,” said Elizabeth Reichert, general manager of Grubb and Ellis Management Services, which manages the building. “It was a three or four year project with major mechanical contractors and architects working on the building. And a lot of those same people that worked on it are people that are still in those various trades in Jacksonville and who have developed some very prominent businesses in Jacksonville.”
The building was built originally for Prudential Life Insurance’s southeast headquarters.
Though it mainly housed Prudential employees, Reichert found that it has housed other companies including Bethlehem Steel, Seagram Company , Nemours and Guardian Life Insurance Company. The River Club started there, later moving across the river.
Prudential sold the building to Ocwen Asset Investment Corporation in July of 1998.
“I know that Prudential has divested themselves of a lot of the property they owned all over the United States,” said Reichert. “I think that they sort of changed their business philosophy and are not in the business of owning properties anymore. A lot of companies are moving away from that. They downsize and don’t want to own the buildings anymore.”
Over the past two years, the building has undergone extensive mechanical retrofit and they are now focusing on improving the appearance of the building.
“It’s [mechanical retrofit) very important to the function of the building,” said Reichert. “It’s not as exciting and it’s not as pretty, but it is a strategic part of what you have to do, particularly when some of the mechanical equipment was original to the building. There was a considerable amount of asbestos abatement.”
Renovations also included putting in a sprinkler system, updating the light safety system and bringing the building up to American Disability Act’s code.
“At least 50 percent of the restrooms in the building were not ADA compliant,” she said. “The bathroom renovations were significant because they were still vintage 1960. They were unattractive, to say the very least. The bathrooms were reconfigured and now incorporate what was original in the building including the granite, stainless steel and subtle lighting and colors.”
The entire building is 515,000 square feet and stands 300 feet tall. It once was the tallest building in Jacksonville.
Currently, the two major tenants are Aetna Healthcare, which occupies 274,000 square feet, and the Tax Payer Advocate office of the Internal Revenue Service, which occupies 11,000 square feet.
There is 189,000 square feet available including a block of 6,000 square feet and a block of 16,000 square feet on the ground floor and floors 9-19, which are each approximately about 15,000 square feet.
“I’d like to see some law firms or certified public accounting offices in here,” said Reichert. “I think the building lends itself to a lot of different types of businesses. There are some perfect opportunities for retail on the ground floor. Our floor plates on the upper floors are small enough that they lend themselves to a tenant who needs multiple floors or we have the capability to break the floor up. The building has a lot of flexibility.”
Spaces on the floors are available from as small as 2,400 square feet or for larger companies, up to 165,000 of contiguous space.
Lou Nutter and Oliver Barakat of CB Richard Ellis are leasing agents for floors 9-19 and a portion of the ground floor.
The upper floors are not completely renovated because they want tenants to be able to come in and design their space to their liking.
The building has 24-hour on-site security, a central mail room, a cafeteria, 1,100 square feet of land behind the building and on the St. Johns River with a boardwalk and a gazebo. The building’s newest addition is a gourmet coffee stand in the lobby.
“We tried to create people places,” said Reichert. “It’s very important in your work environment to create places where people feel comfortable and it’s not all glass, steel and concrete. What we tried to do it to incorporate what we think is good about the glass, steel and concrete but also create it with some sort of nature element.”
The exterior of the building consists of Alabama limestone, North Carolina pink granite and Georgia marble.
According to Reichert, the outside sidewalks are dated. It’s a risk management issue and, for that matter, quite unattractive, so they are putting in brand new pavers in the front and back of the building.
“We wanted to match the classic 1950s architecture,” she said. “We did not want to detract from what was already here and good about the building. We only wanted to enhance it.”
The exterior renovations will also include complete re-landscaping of the front and back of the building with new sod and shrubbery and a new six-level 1,100 spaces parking garage which should open in July.
“We knew we had to build the parking garage that was one of the contingencies to keep Aetna as a tenant,” said Reichert “We did want to absolutely preserve that which is so wonderful about the property, which is the fact that it has 13 acres of land.”